You Got a Freelance Writing Assignment! Now What?

Carol Tice

A writer got an assignment!By Amanda Page

You’ve spent hours crafting the perfect article pitch letter — and it landed you a freelance writing assignment! Congratulations.

Now you’ve got to deliver the goods. What do you do next?

Here are five basic steps to take your assignment through to successful completion:

Get specifics

You received a “yes” from the editor. That means they like what you’ve done so far, and they want more.

Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics. How many words does the editor want? What angle does the editor want you to take? Was there something specific in your pitch they want you to focus on? Anything in the pitch they want to know more about?

You’re a writer, not a mind reader. Your editor would rather answer questions before you get started then request a ton of rewrites after you turn your article in.

Be sure to verify the deadline, too. You’ll want to turn your work in on time.

Sign a contract

As soon as you see the “yes,” get a contract — that’s the surefire way to make sure you’ll get paid.

Ask about the terms, negotiate if you need to, and get it in writing.

Find out whether you’ll be paid on acceptance or on publication and if you need to submit an invoice.

Don’t forget to ask about the “kill fee.” That’s the amount you’d get paid if you do all the work, turn in the assignment, and they decide not to use it.

Remember, editors expect professional writers to ask about contract terms. You’re a pro. Ask.

Get to work

Once you know what the editor wants, you can get started. Find your sources. Complete the interviews. Do any additional research you might need, such as finding a recent study or statistic.

Then, write the piece.

Give yourself time to write it, review it, and rewrite it. Check your spelling and grammar. Send it in. Include your invoice so your editor can get the payment process started.

Rewrite as requested

If the editor asks for rewrites, be sure to clarify what they want. Once you know how to proceed, write your revisions and turn them in.

Keep marketing

While you wait to see your byline in print, you can send more pitch letters to new editors. You can also ask the editor you just wrote for whether or not she has any other stories you could write for her publication. Or just send her a new story idea.

It’s a good idea to always be marketing yourself and your writing. Congratulations, again – and good work!

What is the first thing you do when you get an assignment? Tell us in the comments below.

Amanda Page is a freelance writer and instructor in Columbus, Ohio. Learn more about her work at amanda-page.com.

20 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Armenta

    Honestly, the first thing I do is a happy dance! The excitement of getting something accepted has never gotten old! Then I get to work. 🙂

  2. Elke Feuer

    Thanks for the advice, Carol! This is all new to me since my assignment dropped into my lap unexpectedly. It’s a great opportunity and it’s good to know I can come here for help.

  3. Bruce Hoag

    I keep reading all this stuff about getting a contract.

    I’ve never used one. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never had a big enough job to worry about it.

    The fact is that I almost never write anything unless I’m paid at least half in advance,and many clients pay me the full amount before they receive anything. That has worked well for me.

    But it does beg the question: What size or type of assignment warrants a contract?

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Bruce —

      I think you answered your own question there. When the dollar amount on the line is big enough that it would really bug you if the client stiffed you, get a contract.

      Getting 50% up front is always good policy with business clients, especially new ones. But the idea that you’ve never had an assignment big enough to worry about makes me worry that you’re not earning a living at this.

      Writers who do well have ongoing clients that bill a decent amount each month. If you’re constantly doing small one-off jobs for new clients, I’d want to know why you’re not being kept on by any of the clients you do these for. Usually it’s 50% up front for just the first project and then you’re billing and getting paid for future work, based on your contract.

      All you need to know is without a contract, your client does not really have to pay you. Ever. If that doesn’t bother you, guess you’re great without contracts. Personally, I like getting paid, so I don’t write without a contract.

    • Bruce Hoag

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your reply.

      You’re right about not making a living . . . yet.

      I haven’t really been trying to find clients until recently. There have a been a certain number of one-offs. It’s not because the writing was substandard. Far from it. They couldn’t have been happier. But each client wanted me for just one project.

      For example, one wanted a prospectus “cleaned up” so he could present it to some venture capitalists. Another wanted some copy to help them promote a new product. Another wanted 5 audio scripts.

      Ideally, I would like to be writing for several clients on a regular basis but, as you know, you have to take the work that’s available.

      Cheers, Bruce

    • Carol Tice

      Bruce, both of the gigs you describe above should have paid solid four figures at least…way enough to require a contract. Working on helping companies obtain funding should be a very lucrative gig, because there’s so much on the line. I have a feeling you may not be aware of what professional rates are.

      And you do NOT have to “take the work that’s available.” As long as you have that mentality, you won’t earn much.

      Professional freelancers prospect actively to FIND clients, rather than responding to job ads and taking whatever they can see there. That’s the big mind shift where everything starts to change.

      Here’s hoping you can find better pay & clients in 2014!

    • Bruce Hoag

      Dear Carol,

      Many thanks for your kind and helpful comments. From what I’ve read, beginning writers tend to underestimate their value. It’s something that I’m still learning how to do.

      Apart from “what the market will bear”, is there a good source I can look at to get a feel for what professional rates actually are?

      Cheers, Bruce

    • Rich Wheeler

      On a tangent, I just learned this a while back from one of the great writers’ email newsletters: People commonly use “begs the question” when they mean, “demands the question.” “Begs the question” means that that an argument assumes its own conclusion. (You don’t have to believe me; I didn’t believe it until I looked it up.)

    • Carol Tice

      Rich, given this comment, stay tuned for a guest post by Linda Formichelli this weekend on a topic I think you’ll really enjoy.

  4. Daryl

    What’s the first thing I do when I get an assignment?

    I take a break!

    Seriously, I usually take a day off before I tackle the specifics of the project. This includes asking for clarification, and before actually doing any of the necessary research that will be needed.

    It gives me a chance to clear my head, think about what I need to do, and then the next day I get to it!

    (This is, of course, assuming that there isn’t any crazy upcoming deadline I have to turn the work in for!)

  5. Williesha Morris

    Honestly, the first thing I do is jump for joy, because I’m so durn excited every time I get an assignment.

    But yes, I always ask for/suggest a deadline if it’s an open assignment. I also ask about word count.

    My biggest client I failed to do an “official” contract. I only regret that a bit as my invoice emails tended to get lost in the shuffle post-assignment.

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